I have a love/hate relationship with “the holidays.” In my childhood and well beyond I would have a ball around Christmas wearing my Santa hat, singing songs, and readily become filled with warm fuzzies. I enjoyed watching the lights from my Christmas tree (multicolored lights, thank you,) dance on the ceiling and hung my Star Trek and Ninja Turtle ornaments proudly. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, I bought into the whole schtick. Over the past decade though something slowly happened. Perhaps I became an adult. I no longer revel in Christmas cheer. I see it as a potentially stressful time. What used to put a grin on my face now has a fair chance of giving my big ol’ depressive self a case of the sads. Basically somewhere in mid November I gird myself to just “get through the holidays.” But there is still a small part of me that wishes Christmas could be the way it used to be.
Basically I should be looking over my shoulder for Krampus.
(Minor spoilers if you don’t want to know the methods Krampus uses against his victims.)
This Christmas horror movie, Krampus, takes the horned figure of German folklore that is said to punish naughty children where Santa rewards good children, and sics him on a family that has lost sight of what Christmas is about. When the young boy of the family finally gives up his last bit of hope for a heartwarming holiday like he remembers Krampus decides it’s time to remind the them about the true meaning of Christmas. BY KILLING THEM!
The opening scenes are over the top but absolutely have an element of truth about them as in-laws descend on our central family’s home. Every one of them is a silly caricature of some grating awful relative that you grin and bear every year. David Koechner puts his comedy sensibilities to good use here as a hyper competitive gun enthusiast. Tensions in the home are already high even before things start to get weird.
It’s when things get weird that the movie drags. Attempts at atmosphere and dread work decently, but it is too long before the action we’re waiting for really starts to kick in. However, we are treated to an exposition flashback about Krampus done in the the stop motion style of the classic holiday shows like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, a very nice touch.
Once the attacks do start coming we get to all the tongue in cheek Yuletide horror the premise promises. Krampus has a handful of helpers to assist in terrorizing the family some of which induce laughs and others truly terrify. The gingerbread men using kitchen utensils is worth a chuckle while the human sized jack in the box with a horrific split jaw full of drool and teeth is positively frightening to behold. Krampus himself has an interesting and creepy design as well. These monsters take out the family one by one and quickly push the action toward the climax. The horror movie style’s requisite stinger as the credits start to roll is also great fun.
Krampus sets it’s dominoes up and then drags it’s feet knocking them down. Once they do start to fall though it’s a really fun slay ride the rest of the way. Krampus is a fun holiday treat for those who are proud to be on the naughty list.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Black Christmas (1974) – This is a Christmas horror movie in the way that Die Hard is a Christmas action movie; it happens to be set during the holiday but doesn’t use that in any meaningful way. One part slasher movie and one part whodunnit, it fails at both. None of the kills are particularly memorable or tense, and I never suspect any of the characters of being the killer because the audience already knows there is a crazy guy in the house. This movie gets a nod for using a killer’s POV shot before Halloween and also pulling the “The calls are coming from inside the house!” gag well before When a Stranger Calls.
Black Christmas (2006) – While the original may have been the birth of some horror cliches this remake is a jumble of all of them. It’s gross just to be gross and the victims are paper thin non-entities who are only there to die. That said, it has a faster pace than the original, especially toward the end when bodies are dropping left and right and buckets of blood are flying. More importantly this version plays with Christmas iconography more explicitly. People are stabbed with candy canes, strangled with Christmas lights, and that’s all good for a perverse holiday thrill. This movie, while trite, can be a guilty pleasure if left on in the background to please the gorehounds at your holiday party.
Santa’s Slay – While Jesus is the son of God, Santa is the son of Satan. His thousand years of catering to the whims of children that he hates, a sentence he earned after losing a curling competition with an angel, is coming to end and he’s ready to go on a bloody rampage. Starring pro wrestler Bill Goldberg as Santa you know exactly what kind of movie you’re in for when the first scene includes Chris Kattan, Rebecca Gayheart, and Fran Drescher. More comedy than horror, the puerile humor gets tired quick and the hammy acting coupled with ridiculously bad effects means this movie would be best enjoyed on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s ALMOST so bad it’s good, but not quite. Which means it’s just bad.
Christmas Evil – The score of this movie sounds like a cat running across a synthesizer. There may have been a keytar involved. I liked the idea of a man going through a mental break and taking on what he feels to be the duties of Santa Claus. Much like Maniac our killer is our main character and we follow him as he struggles with his delusions, brings gifts to orphans, and chops up bullies. This movie gets points for what it wanted to do, but the acting and overall low production values couldn’t bring the idea home and I found myself bored more often than not.
A Christmas Horror Story – An anthology of terror tales set on the same Christmas Eve this movie has precious little to do with Christmas itself. We have a Creepy Child story, a Haunted House story, and a Monster Stalker story. These three tales are fine but feel wasted having so little to do with the actual holiday. The fourth segment is the best by default, and it is indeed genuinely fun to see Santa fighting off a zombie horde of infected workshop elves. If you’re interested then leave this on while you wrap gifts and pay attention when it cuts to Santa’s story.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – This Finnish horror/thriller provides a fresh spin on the legend of Santa Claus and Krampus that is entertainingly unique, even for this group of films. If you wanted to see a mindless horde of naked old bearded men crest over a hill as they bum rush a fleeing child, this is your movie! Much of the movie is spent with the audience being frustratingly way ahead of the characters but the latter half is a fun, very bizarre adventure.
A Christmas Carol (1999) – Yes, this version was made for TV, but you tell me that Patrick Stewart did a turn as Ebenezer Scrooge and I have to see it. The limitations of a TV budget make this adaptation plain and average. Beyond Stewart’s good performance there is little here of note. If you’ve never seen a film version of A Christmas Carol this one is serviceable but there are better options.
Love Actually – I often see this movie held up as a modern Christmas favorite. I can see why; it pulls at all the right heartstrings for the holiday season. Telling the separate stories of several different couples, there are so many characters that none of them ever have the chance to have any real depth. This results in story beats that feel manipulative, shallow, and representative of the most common romcom cliches. Yet I can’t deny that the entire cast exudes charm and likability in every frame and I found myself enjoying the film as decent “feel good” movie.
It’s a Wonderful Life – The classic tale of an angel showing a suicidal man that wishes he’d never been born just how many lives he’s changed for the better. Little did I know that that part of the movie is only the last 30 minutes of the 130 minute run time. Yes, we need to set up the characters and their lives so we can see the differences later, but it should have been done in half the time. And yet with all that time George Bailey’s turn from generally being ok with his life to being suicidal still felt too sudden and extreme for me. Aside from that hiccup Jimmy Stewart’s performance is good and the movie does have several moments of genuine inspiration and hope, but the whole thing feels almost painfully protracted.